“Council to consider fiber issue”

The city-parish council and Lafayette Parish Utilities Authority (LPUA) are meeting tomorrow night to consider the latest interaction of the fiber bond ordinance. That ordinance sets conditions on and authorizes the issuance of bonds to support the fiber build. You can show up to watch the goings-on. The special LCG-LPUA meeting starts at 5:30 and, unusually, for a council meeting you can be sure to actually see the ordinance heard at that time. The bond ordinance is not only the first item it is the only item on the agenda for the meeting.

The most important point is covered in the closing paragraphs of the Advertiser story:

On July 16, by a vote of 12,290 to 7,507, or 62 percent to 38 percent, city of Lafayette voters agreed to issue up to $125 million in bonds to pay for the fiber-to-the-home project.

Unless additional lawsuits are filed, LUS could be prepared to issue bonds in July with the first customers receiving service 18 months later, said LUS Director Terry Huval.

The voters of Lafayette need to be very aware that without continual interference from BellSouth we’d already be building our network. –And that it could have been built more cheaply and without legal strictures that seek to force LUS to charge more for its services than its expenses would otherwise necessitate if BellSouth would have chosen to compete with rather than legislate against LUS.

The latest ordinance seeks to align itself with the latest, appeals court, interpretation of the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act. (This differs from the interpretations of the city, LUS, legislators involved in the negotiations that shaped the law, and the trial court. Cox, apparently finding some residue of honor, did not feel free join the suit. The author says he thought these issues were covered in negotiation. The co-sponsor is spearheading repeal in the senate.)

LUS and the city have offered this new ordinance in the hopes that they can keep the ball rolling but I imagine that what they really want is the chance to rewrite it again after a repeal effort succeeds in the Louisiana legislature.

Folks, Lafayette could use your support again. Both at the meeting tomorrow and, more importantly, during the upcoming lobbying effort at the legislature. Hang in, we are getting there.

How To Think About Building Fiber Networks

Mike recently forwarded a link to an article that makes a pretty good Sunday read. It’s a readable, sensible story that can fill in some background that readers may want to have in order to understand the decisions that will go into building a fiber-optic network like Lafayette’s. Most material on network construction is pretty academic or technical. It either abstractly about describing different options or about the virtues of building a particular type of network (usually a vendor’s).

It’s rare to find an article that puts the academic and technical choices in a realistic enough context that the reader can see how real decisions are made. The piece “Fiber at any price” is set in Asia but the choices faced by Asian Telecom companies are largely the same choices we face here. What you can learn from an article like this is what factors it is important to pay attention to…factors like what drives companies to build out fiber (Video) and why backhaul expenses are an issue in big bandwidth deployments.

The story focuses on the factors that go into deciding 1) whether to build a fiber-optic based communications network and 2) what type of network –not all fiber-optic networks are the same–you build once you’ve decided you need one. A few teasers:

The catch is that fiber does not come cheap. The cost of the equipment itself isn’t a problem so much as the cost of running the network, particularly in the backhaul, where bandwidth costs grow as traffic increases.

Interestingly, how big a barrier this is varies from market to market and carrier to carrier. Some carriers find FTTx very cost-effective to deploy, while others find it tremendously expensive. The regulatory environment is a factor in some cases, but it’s also a matter of choosing the right technology and the right FTTx architecture for the job, as well as the right business model to cover the opex costs.

If you mull over this one for a bit you’ll have a better appreciation of the decisions being made in Lafayette. Not a bad read for a reflective moment.

Mike Michot Sponsors Repeal in the Senate

Mike Michot, a senator from Lafayette parish, has sponsored in the Senate (1, 2, 3 Repeal!!!) the same three bills Robideaux prefiled in the House. Good for Mike!

Mike was a co-sponsor of the Local Government Fair Competition Act that he now seeks to repeal. It should speak volumes about the problems with this law that a co-sponsor has repudiated it. Michot was a part of the negotiations that lead to the compromise and he can speak with authority about the way the agreement was betrayed. That should help sway his colleagues.

Congratulations are are in order.

Advertiser Favors Repeal

The Daily Advertiser endorsed repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act in its editorial this morning. From the closing paragraph:

We have chosen to support the Robideaux legislation for one primary reason: Lafayette citizens have gone on record as favoring the LUS telecommunications plan, but BellSouth maneuvering, based partly on provisions of the act, has thwarted the will of the people. We urge local and area legislators to vigorously support the Robideaux package.

Kudos to the Advertiser.

It’s good for the local newspaper to endorse the fiber repeal bills and to urge our representatives to give the bills vigorous support.

Even better would be for citizens to do the same.

Repeal of this unfair law is exactly the sort of issue in which an aroused citizenry has the most effect. It is a pretty nearly pure case of the desires of the voters of a community being opposed by the interests of a corporation who hopes to thwart those desires. The people of Lafayette voted, 62 to 38%, to build a fiber optic network. BellSouth has moved aggressively to thwart that vote. You can do something about that by supporting repeal in letters or calls to your legislators. Political influence in our system is driven by two factors: votes and the money needed to win votes during elections.

In the end it all comes down to winning votes. Special interests have so much influence only because legislators believe–with some good reason–that only corporation and some special interests care to have an opinion about most issues.

You can make it clear that repeal of the Local Government Fair Competition Act is one of those issues about which voters care. You can make it clear that your vote will be influenced by your legislator’s support, or failure to support repeal.

Write early; write often–you can make a real difference. Ask your friends to do the same. Aside from requesting a vote for Repeal you can also ask that your Representatives and Senators co-sponsor the bills. Co-sponsorship puts their name on the bill and signals their colleagues that this is something they will fight for.

The state of Louisiana offers up a plain but efficient page that helps find your legislators’ addresses. Have at it.

Phone Companies Say Cable Companies Suppress Free Speech

Equal time for the telcos. Since pointing you toward the cable companies calling the Bells liars this morning I found this nifty article wherein the phone companies complain about the cablecos suppressing free speech. The telcos say:

New Jersey cable operators are attempting to stifle free speech by refusing to run TV ads promoting video choice and competition, according to Verizon Communications Inc.

The telco — which is promoting a franchising-reform bill that will allow statewide franchising on an expedited schedule — complained Wednesday that Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. have refused to sell it advertising time.

A third operator, Cablevision Systems Corp., didn’t even respond to an e-mail inquiry on ad sales, the telco added.

The cable companies are using their systems to promote only one side of the issue, according to Dennis Bone, Verizon New Jersey president. The 30-second spots Verizon sought to place state that cable prices have increased four times as much as the Consumer Price Index since 2001.

The cableco’s fire back:

‘A $90 billion phone monopoly complaining about high rates and not being able to get its message out is laughable. Is there anyone in New Jersey who hasn’t seen hundreds of Verizon ads?’ Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said.

Comcast, the state’s other largest operator, issued a statement explaining its policy to reject ads containing unsubstantiated, false and misleading claims.

The sad thing is they’re both right. The cable companies are right when the accuse the phone companies of lying advertising and absurd poor-mouthing. But the phone companies are right to accuse the cablecos of the lying and of refusing to carry ads that they don’t want heard. Cox gets to tell BellSouth its ads aren’t Truthful? Cox!!? Isn’t that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? I don’t know about you but I don’t see much evidence that any cable company worries themselves about misleading advertising the push at us every day. I’ve never heard of any ad being rejected for ethical reasons. (For being politically “dangerous” to the cableco–yes. But not for simply misleading the public. That’s almost the definition of advertising.)

The charge that the cableco’s are willing use their dominance in TV to exclude voices they don’t want heard is a serious charge and is a dangerous right for the cablecos to claim. Lafayette Coming Together couldn’t get a return phone call from Cox’s sales people during the referendum. Granted we didn’t pursue that very hard; didn’t have the cash…but I’ve been around ad sales people most of my life. A new potential client calls in on their own? That call gets returned. Verizion is right to complain.

A pox on both their houses. (But isn’t it fun to watch the bullies beat each other around for a while?)

Update 3/17/06: Newsday has a bit more complete version of this same story.

Cable Companies call Phone Companies Liars

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the national association of cable TV companies like Cox and Time-Warner, is frustrated enough to start talking plainly about their Phone company competition.

Recent days have seen strong signs that a national franchise bill that will put the cable companies at a tremendous disadvantage will float through congress regardless of the opposition of legions of local municipalities and huge cable companies.

“As many of their former and vanquished competitors have experienced, the Bell companies are once again using false and misleading advertising to lobby for special favors that benefit only them,” said Rob Stoddard, Senior Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs for NCTA. “In Washington, DC, they are spending tens of millions on highly negative and demonstrably false advertising. What’s shameful and ironic is that this forms the basis for the Bells’ heavy-handed lobbying for a sweetheart deal.”

Surely the cable companies are self-interested. And surely there is more than a tinge of hypocrisy considering the sorts of false-hoods that Cox is more than willing to pursue. (Everyone in Lafayette and Baton Rouge has seen the latest Cox ads deceptively claiming to have “fiber” networks after EATel and LUS put forward real FTTH plans.)

But it’s good to see that people nationally will be hearing what we here in Lafayette know all to well: you can’t trust BellSouth and the phone companies.

Advertiser on the Repeal Bills

The Advertiser weighs in today with its story on the repeal bills prefiled by Joel Robideaux in the Louisiana House. Tailor’s story adds an interview with LUS director Huval to the information already reported in the Advocate and here:

Huval said Wednesday that abolishing the Fair Competition Act is necessary because agreements made during the many hours of negotiating the legislation have not been honored by BellSouth.

Since LUS moved forward with its telecommunications project, BellSouth and others have tried to find ways not to honor their agreements, he said.

‘As a result, the act known as the Local Government Fair Competition Act has been abused to become an unfair act in that it has made it very costly and time-consuming to move forward with a project the citizens of Lafayette have said that they want,’ Huval said.

I wish we’d been given a little more detail on just what Huval was thinking of when he said that BellSouth had not honored their agreements. BellSouth, more than Cox, has managed to generate a lot of bad blood since this battle began. What we hear repeatedly is that the lawsuits have been based on issues that the legislators all (including the “author” Ellington) agreed had been settled–in the way that LUS has suggested. Much of the hope of repeal, I’d think, lies in getting our legislators to say so plainly to their colleagues. Nobody likes to have their trust abused and the legislature has been used by the incumbents. They’d not feel free to do so if they didn’t feel they had the necessary few in their pocket and that the rest would be to distracted by other concerns to notice.

It’d be nice to prove them wrong for a change. You could help things along by writing your state legislator and letting them know you support repeal. The state offers up a plain but efficient page that helps find your legislators’ addresses.

“Bills would clear LUS’ way”

The Advocate picks up on the story of the three bills (1) (2) (3) that would repeal or radically modify the Local Government Fair Competition Act. The reporter does a good job of getting to fundamental points and stating them clearly. To wit:

House Bill 245 would repeal the Fair Competition Act in its entirety.

Should that happen, there would be no government-provider specific rules in existence — and the very laws that were the basis of BellSouth’s lawsuit and a subsequent 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against LUS would go away…

House Bill 257 would exempt from the Fair Competition Act governments that conducted a feasibility study or received voter approval to enter the telecommunications business before Aug. 15, 2005.

That exemption would presumably apply to Lafayette, where voters approved funding for the LUS telecommunications business in July 2005…

The third measure, House Bill 244, would hold private communications providers that receive some type of funding from federal, state or local government to comply with some of the same provisions of the Fair Competition Act as government-run communications businesses.

Of special interest are quotes from the man who introduced the bill, Joel Robideaux:

“What was represented at the negotiations didn’t necessarily play out that way,” Robideaux said.

That’s a indirect, diplomatic restating of what LUS and Lafayette’s allies have repeatedly said: BellSouth and Cox made compromises they are not honoring. A major impetus behind repeal is that Cox and especially BellSouth are felt to have betrayed the agreements they made, invalidating the deal and legitimating repeal.

The article is well-organized and very readable; I recommend you go take a slow read for it…there’s going to be a lot more to this game and getting a good grip on what pieces are on the board will help help in keeping track of the maneuvering.

The story closes nicely:

Robideaux said he did not know whether any private communications company receives any government subsidies, but if it does, it should be willing to subject itself to the same rules private providers follow.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Robideaux said.

I think that final clause in the first paragraph above should read: “it should be willing to subject itself to the same rules private public providers follow.” BellSouth, of course, receives massive subsidies still (the universal service fund which subsidizes rural service being but one example and tax exemptions for our local Cingular call center being another)–and built the network it clutches so tightly to its chest on the back of a regulated monopoly.

Joe Robideaux deserves to be congratulated for stepping up to the plate. I understand from coffee-house scuttlebut (thanks Mike) that Mike Michot will be the tip of the spear for repeal in the Senate. Cheers should go his way as well.

Repeal!! Limited and Partial

The third bill in Representative Robideaux’s trilogy of anti-Local Government Fair Competition Act bills is house bill 257. The short description says: “Provides for exceptions to applicability of the Local Government Fair Competition Act.”

That it does. It puts 2, maybe 3 exceptions out there.

It carves out a complete exception for wireless. It carves out a complete exception for Lafayette. And it appears to carve out a complete exception for emergencies and disasters for 5 years after such an event-though the utility of that is murky.

Overall that’s a limited and partial repeal.

I know that in most states this bill or at least its practical effects would be considered a huge win. If this is what we end up with in Louisiana the national significance will be considerable–it would overturn a significant portion of an anti-muni bill and would signal that the Bells could be stopped in state legislatures. That would be a nice follow up to Lafayette’s referendum win which modeled an effective way to beat the telcos locally.

The Wireless Exemption:
The wireless exemption will be the most ballyhooed portion if this bill becomes law. This law would free all communities to build and use wireless networks any way they want. That’s something substantial to cheer about. It’s worth remembering, however, that this law will only restore part of the rights every municipality enjoyed before BellSouth had this (un)Fair Competition Act passed in 2004.

That wireless exemption will give New Orleans the right to keep its free muni network going and to expand it with no fear of losing its investment during this extremely tight fiscal era. That is wonderful. The people of the city shouldn’t be prevented from using their own infrastructure to help bootstrap the recovery.

The wireless exemption will also return to all Louisiana communities a measure of self-determination. The spectacle of the state restricting communities rights to take care of their own at the “request” of some out of state monopolies was a sobering lesson in modern politics.

The Downside: Exempting only wireless and leaving barriers in place for wireline and fiber distorts the choices communities make. Fiber To The Home is the ultimate networking architecture. If a city can garner the political will to take the plunge beginning with fiber will make building a really capable wireless cloud much cheaper. (The opposite is not true.) I hate to see communities forced to settle for “good enough” while corporations are allowed to make it inordinately difficult for communities to offer real competition in the last mile over the most capable technology. In addition to the advantage of larger capacity, buried fiber is the most disaster-resistant way to build a network.

The Lafayette Exemption:
Lafayette gets grandfathered out of the revised law entirely. One provision of the proposed law exempt cities that had a referendum before August the 15th 2005. The only city that would qualify is Lafayette. This provision amounts to a repeal of the “Municipal Fair Competition Act” for Lafayette only. This would obviously be good for Lafayette which would regain its sovereignty in telecommunications.

The Downside: Only Lafayette is exempted from the onerous provision of the fair competition law. New Ibera, Alexandria, Houma, Lake Charles…every other city will be limited to wireless. That’s plain wrong. The citizens of Breaux Bridge are no less deserving of a local alternative to the incumbents than are the citizens of Lafayette.

The Emergency or Disaster Exemption:
Any local government can do anything it wants for five years after an emergency or a disaster. I’m not at all sure what practical consequence this would have. Wireless is already legal and the expenses of a fiber network would be impossible to justify if you could only count on having five years of usable life. Maybe its a fall back to protect New Orleans for a time if the wireless exemption fails or maybe there is some more subtle, uniquely Louisiana shenanigans afoot….I suppose the mayor could just put it on his calendar to declare an emergency every 4 and half years or so.

There’s something satisfyingly creative about a legislative strategy based on a trilogy of laws that pack a nice sequential punch. You’ve got to wonder who came up with a strategy that so nicely combines a little bit of cajun wry canille with a brutal willingness to drive straight to the heart of the matter. Very Louisiana. It’s the sort of thing that makes natives laugh and makes others uneasy and confused.